Kara Swisher is an American technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal and an author and commentator on the Internet. She created and wrote Boom Town, a column which appeared on the front page of the Marketplace section and online, and now appears on All Things Digital, which she founded and currently serves as the co-executive editor of with Walt Mossberg.
Swisher wrote many stories about the World Wide Web and Internet policy issues and wrote feature articles on technology for the paper. During that period, she was cited as the most influential reporter covering the Internet by the Industry Standard magazine. She is the author of aol.com: How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads and Made Millions in the War for the Web, published by Times Business Print Books in July 1998. The sequel, There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere: The AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for a Digital Future, was published in the fall of 2003 by Crown Business Print Books.
There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere:
The AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for the Digital Future
Crown Business, 2004
"AOL had found itself at the edge of disaster so frequently that one of its first executives, a brassy Vietnam veteran and restaurateur named Jim Kimsey, had taken the punch line of an old joke popularized by Ronald Reagan and made it into an unlikely mantra for the company. It concerned a very optimistic young boy who happened upon a huge pile of horse manure and began digging excitedly. When someone asked him what he was doing covered in muck, the foolish boy answered brightly, 'There must be a pony in here somewhere!'" —From the Prologue
If you're wondering what happened after "a company without assets acquired a company without a clue," as Kara Swisher wryly writes, it's time to crack open this trenchant book about the doomed merger of America Online and Time Warner. On a quest to discover how the deal of the century became the messiest merger in history, Swisher delivers a rollicking narrative and a keen analysis of this debacle that is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it all means for the digital future. Packed with new revelations and on-the-record interviews with key players, it is the first detailed examination of the merger's aftermath and also looks forward to what is coming next.
It certainly has not been a pretty picture so far—with $100 billion in losses, a sinking stock price, employees in revolt, and lawsuits galore. As Swisher writes, "It is hard not to feel a bit queasy about the whole sorry mess...It felt a bit like I was watching someone fall down a flight of stairs in slow motion, and every bump and thump made me wince. It made me reassess old ideas and wonder what I had gotten wrong. And it left me deeply confused as to what had happened and, more important, what was coming next."
For Swisher, finding the answers to what went awry is important because she remains a staunch believer in the digital future—maybe not in the AOL Time Warner merger, but in the essential idea at the heart of it that someday the distinction of old and new media will no longer exist. Borrowing from Winston Churchill, Swisher calls it "the end of the beginning" of the digital revolution. "By that, I mean that it is from the ashes of this bust that the really important companies of the next era will emerge. And that evolution will, I believe, be shaped by what happened—and what is happening now—at AOL Time Warner."
To figure it all out, Swisher takes her reader on a journey that begins with a portrait of two wildly different corporate cultures and businesses that somehow came to believe, in the crucible of the red-hot Internet era, that they could successfully join forces and achieve unprecedented growth and success. When the merger was announced in early 2000, the irresistible combination was hailed as the new paradigm and its executives—Steve Case, Jerry Levin, Bob Pittman—as popular icons of the future. But after the boom so spectacularly turned to bust and the visions of New Media Supremacy lay in ruins, Swisher searches for clues about where the merger went wrong and who is to blame.
More important, she looks to the future of both AOL Time Warner and the Internet as she seeks to answer the key question that the noise of the disaster has all but drowned out. Will the demise of the AOL Time Warner merger be the final and inevitable chapter of the dot-com debacle or will it herald a new paradigm altogether? This book, then, is a primer for the time to come, using the story of the AOL Time Warner merger as the vehicle to show the troubled journey into the future.
Three Rivers Press, 1999
In 1996, Kara Swisher, then a reporter at The Washington Post, was granted unprecedented access to one of the hottest and most closely watched companies in the world, America Online, Inc. In aol.com, Swisher has written a book that captures the secrets of how AOL beat the competition and became the world's biggest online company. Swisher also reveals the company's behind-the-scenes dealings with Microsoft cofounders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, CompuServe, Prodigy, Netscape, and the Christian Right.
Throughout its existence, AOL has repeatedly been written off by the media and the high-tech world. Bill Gates threatened to buy it or bury it. Deep-pocketed competitors such as CompuServe and Prodigy thought little of their smaller rival. And AOL made matters worse by committing a series of public-relations and technical blunders that became front page news and enraged its subscribers.
But the company--a "cyber-cockroach"--refused to die. Now, with over eleven million subscribers, AOL is the undisputed leader in the online world, vitally positioned at the nexus of big business, high tech, advertising, and new media. In telling the story of AOL, Swisher also conveys the fascinating history of the online business, which has its origins in the dreams of an eccentric and little-known entrepreneur named Bill Von Meister, whose grand ideas and big spending spawned the fledgling company that would become AOL. But it fell to a young marketing executive named Steve Case to build AOL while fending off an onslaught of wealthier competitors and suitors. Ultimately, as Swisher vividly illustrates, AOL gained supremacy because Case possessed the best vision for his company, establishing AOL as a vibrant virtual community rather than an online shopping center or business tool. Included in that community is an array of enthusiasts, activists, and deviants who at times clash in battles over freedom of expression and family values, a flash point best illustrated here by AOL's fight against the Communications Decency Act.
Re-creating all of the major moments in AOL's frenzied history, aol.com is a fascinating and important inside story about the birth of a new medium, the enterprising innovators who are leading it, and the way it is changing our culture.
There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere
"Swisher narrates human foible and brilliance, a train-wreck tale brightened by plenty of personality—including her own, sparkling through in laugh-out-loud observations on almost every page." —Boston Globe
"Swisher displays a finely honed hogwash detector and maps AOL's inevitable fall with the perfect amount of cynicism and whimsy." —Newsday
"Swisher delivers a readable account of the gigantic merger and why it didn't work. She mixes in distinctive humor with hard-core reporting to expose a monumental exercise in ineptness."—Dallas Morning News
"[Readers] will be entertained by Swisher's barbed wit and carried along by her expertly constructed narrative." —Forbes.com
"Swisher moves her narrative along swiftly and adopts a pleasingly irreverent tone...Better yet, Swisher diligently reconstructs the optimism with which many Time Warner officials (including Ted Turner) greeted the merger. The merger was not a total loss...Swisher has produced an enjoyable book about it." —Washington Post
"Swisher explains in her excellent new book why the merger turned out to be a rotten egg...Pony is a wickedly funny, insider-y tale...Swisher deftly paints the characters of the top executives, then exposes all the bickering and backstabbing." —San Francisco Weekly
"Swisher has a wicked sense of humor and a keen eye for human foibles and folly." —Chicago Sun-Times
"[An] entertaining and sharply written analysis of the fateful AOL Time Warner merger." —Variety.com
Through tenacity and brilliant marketing, America Online bested competitors like Prodigy and CompuServe to become the way most Americans reach the Internet, according to Wall Street Journal reporter Swisher's gripping cyber-saga. The author, who has also covered AOL and the Internet for the Washington Post since 1994, conducted interviews with AOL's top executives, among others, and divulges details of AOL's rebuff of a 1993 buyout attempt by billionaire stakeholder Paul G. Allen, a cofounder of Microsoft. Microsoft famously waffled during the Net's infancy, and Allen's better-known partner, Bill Gates, predicted AOL's demise that same year. Then, paradoxically, Gates angled to buy or at least control the floundering company, but AOL bounded back. Chief executive Steve Case relentlessly focused on building "community" (via chat rooms and message boards) and unleashed a risky but inspired mailing campaign, a "carpet-bombing" of the U.S. with over 250 million free AOL disks for going online with AOL software. Swisher frankly reviews AOL's questionable accounting and billing practices, such as switching customers to higher rates without their consent, as well as customers' manifold grievances, yet he maintains that AOL has mended its ways. Although she admits that "Steve CaseAand by extensionAAOL, is so middle-of-the-road, so bland, so vanilla," Swisher's account makes the computer wars seem as seductive, treacherous and unpredictable as the Web itself. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Kara Swisher — 2012 Women of Vision Awards
Kara Swisher, Co-Executive Editor at All Things Digital, gives the keynote speech at the 2012 Women of Vision Awards
Inside the Internet Garage - Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, April 24
Inside the Internet Garage is thrilled to welcome its first guests, Wall Street Journal and AllThingsD's Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. In this inaugural interview, we get to hear about their professional pasts, the origins of AllThingsD, and their stories about the movers and shakers of the tech world. This interview is the first of a series that explores the history of the Internet with the people who helped build it, write it, and conceive of it.